Money Can’t Buy You Love (or Elections)

Source: FiveThirtyEight. Click to view larger image.

The 2020 election season has been fascinating to behold. Two billionaires, Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer, attempted to purchase themselves the Democratic Party presidential nomination through massive advertising buys. Bloomberg supplemented his television and online ad buys by hiring every party operative in sight and setting up campaign offices everywhere.

“It is an open question whether Bloomberg’s investment in Virginia — unparalleled among his Democratic opponents — will translate into votes,” wrote the Washington Post last week. It’s an open question no longer. All that money bought him 127,000 votes, or about 9.7% of the total.

According to Business Insider, Bloomberg dropped $18 million on television and radio ads in Virginia, about 50 times what Biden spent — “and got demolished.”

Steyer has spent loads of money on cable TV ads in Virginia (I can’t find a specific number, but I’ve seen plenty of the ads) but snagged 1,586 votes in Virginia, or about 0.1% of the total.

Clearly, money helps win elections. Without spending millions of dollars, Bloomberg could not have come out of nowhere to capture nearly 10% of the Virginia primary vote. But it turns out that other things matter much more — like media coverage, campaign strategy, the support of the party apparatus, and candidate attributes such as message and charisma.

So, next time someone tells you we’ve got to limit campaign contributions to save democracy here in Virginia, just remember Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer. Money can’t buy you love.


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21 responses to “Money Can’t Buy You Love (or Elections)

  1. Yeah, and neither man has had as many business failures and fraud and cheating as Donald Trump

  2. Evidently it’s ‘celebrity’ that buys you love …
    The reason for campaign finance laws remains. It’s not love but power to write laws in their favor that lies at the heart of campaign donations. Don’t think that can be said of Steyer or Bloomberg, but certainly of Trump and all the corporate PACS.

  3. $141.73 per vote.

  4. re: money in elections. Please note that there were very few, if any, attack ads on candidates – that’s where money goes in regular elections. Ad extolling your own narcissistic “virtues” not so much.

    And… your reall good “success” at business – maybe not so much either, maybe more important for GOP than Dems? 😉

    Both of them said they were a better “businessman” than Trump.

    What the… ???

    Bloomberg was talking about how good a Mayor he was but he had this nasty stop&frisk baggage did not impress black folks especially the more he “explained” it, saying that every American city still does it!

    And all that Bernie did was prove that the left has loons just like the right has their loons – and they might sit out the election out of spite.

    They say Biden is “gaff”-prone but I bet you don’t hear him saying that he’s gonna put a lot of coal miners out of work or similar…

    Obamacare is back in court and at risk for being ruled “illegal”.

    It’ll be interesting if that happens…

    • “They say Biden is “gaff”-prone but I bet you don’t hear him saying that he’s gonna put a lot of coal miners out of work or similar…”

      A couple of days ago he promised to raise my taxes.

      Oh, wait, for a democrat that’s not a “gaff”. ?

      • Oh so true! But Trump gave you tax refunds and paid for it with debt –

        Conservatives USED to talk about what we would leave our children and grand-children.

        No more.

        No with debt and not with climate.

        screw those kids…

  5. Jim – thank you for posting articles while on vacation. By the way, where are you? Colorado? California? Illinois? I know you a law abiding citizen so you must be in a legal weed state to have written that Bloomberg and Steyer’s losses somehow excuse Virginia’s rampant legalized grift, graft and corruption.

    First, these were two billionaires trying to get votes from liberal Democratic primary voters. Have you forgotten the Democratic Party plank that all billionaires are evil people who stole their money from widows and orphans and ought to be sent to reeducation camps? The fact they got any votes is a testament to the money they spent. My guess is that Bloomberg bought himself the Treasury Secretary’s job if the Dems win in November but that’s another story.

    Second, they spent their own money. They weren’t bankrolled by special interests like in Virginia state politics. If they had been elected they would have been beholden only to themselves. So what? This year Virginia’s Democrats proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they are as beholden to Dominion as the Republicans ever were. “Dominion Dick” Saslaw is actually worse than Tommy Norment when it comes to pandering to deep pocketed donors. Even apparent victories for “the people” are suspect. For example, Omega Protein really screwed up by donating twice as much to Republicans as Democrats in 2019. If you’re going to legally but immorally bribe politicians you have the bribe the politicians on the winning team. Dominion gets it. They split their money pretty evenly in 2019. After all, why buy only half the legislature when you can buy them all?

    The Virginia General Assembly’s pandering to special interests in return for money is a total and complete embarrassment to the state.

    Wherever you are … try the indica vape pens – I hear they are excellent.

    • No, no, I’m not on vacation. I’m firmly ensconced in the Bacon’s Rebellion global command center.

      You make a valid observation when you say that at least Steyer and Bloomberg were spending their own money, so it’s not like they’re beholden to some special interest. There’s truth to that. However, that is a very different issue from the point I was making — that spending boatloads of money may be overrated as a path to winning elected office.

      You are likely correct to say that Bloomberg would have performed even worse if he hadn’t spent all that money. I agree: He would have gotten 0% of the vote. So, all that money did buy him a few votes. As I wrote above, “Clearly, money helps win elections.” Equally clearly, given the performance of Bloomberg and Steyer, money is just one factor among many.

      • If spending boat loads of money isn’t important why would anybody object to Virginia imposing campaign contributions like 45 other states have done? Certainly the taking of large sums of money from entities subject to regulation by the politicians taking the money appears to be questionable. It undermines peoples’ faith in fair government. So why not impose limits if the money is relatively unimportant? You know the answer – because the money is important.

        If Dominion gave me $100m to run for governor (which, bizarrely in this corrupt state would be 100% legal) I still wouldn’t get elected. Unelectable candidates can’t get elected just through money. However, if Dominion gave $100m to Terry McAuliffe for Round 2 the election would be over before the voting started. Steyer and Bloomberg were elderly, white, male, straight billionaires with no federal political experience. In today’s Democratic Party they were toast before they started.

        • The problem with “reform” is that it’s swiss cheese reform masquerading as reform. They show you what they’re restricting while not talking about the loopholes… it’s a ruse for the simpleminded.

          When they do campaign finance like they’ve done in Europe – I’ll believe it. Until then it’s a shell game that rubes fall for everytime.

          • Perfect is the enemy of good. 45 states impose campaign contribution limits for state politicians. I’ve looked at each one of those states’ rules and most are not swiss cheese at all – especially those that limit PAC contributions as well as direct contributions.

    • DJ … Couldn’t agree more and wanted to shut up the candidates who ranted about the 2 billionaire candidates. Both spent enormous amounts of money helping the Democratic causes in the last election and before. The criticisms were just plain nasty.

      Bloomberg’s money closed the coal plant in Alexandria with the Sierra Club, and Steyer’s Next Gen organization helped bring out the young vote in 2018, in addition to his work on Climate. He actually left his business 10 years ago because the Board would not consider his plan to divest AND Bloomberg;’s competence would be welcomed by me in the Gov.

      • Neither of them live in Virginia. They should not be permitted to spend money trying to influence elections in this state any more than a resident of Virginia should be allowed to influence elections in San Francisco or New York.

        And Steyer still has his coal and private prison money. If he was truly virtuous, he’d have given that all away threefold.

        • Well he says he was invested in the private prisons in their early days but is no longer. Same with fossils including coal. Where does your info come from?

          Regarding this out of state money business. Your rule about money for specific candidates might be a good one, but that is not what happen in the instances I spoke of. Bloomberg gave Sierra the money to start their Beyond Coal campaign and the coal plant in Alexandria was one of the first to go.
          Steyer’s money went to create and keep NextGen funded.
          It is an organization whose purpose is to get young people involved in voting and in the political process. Again, not a specific candidate.

      • Bloomberg’s business acumen is without question. His political competence is overrated. I spent so much time working in New York City I had to withhold for, file and pay New York taxes. Despite astronomically high taxes New York City has endless problems. Beyond the stop & frisk debacle Bloomberg did nothing to alleviate the affordable housing crisis in NYC. He’s also very condescending in his attitudes. He got a law passed making it illegal to idle your car in order to cool it before driving in the summer. Then he was caught doing just that. Or, I should say, his chauffeur got caught. So he had one of the “little people” working for him drag a window air conditioner on an extension cord to his car so it would be cooled without idling.

        His money might do some good but politically speaking he’s just another elitist.

        • Well, living in CT and the NY media market, I saw a lot of good happen in NY under his time in office. He certainly has not one spec of charisma and you are probably right that he believes he is entitled. Where I come from in Phila, we would call that the problem with ‘new money’.

          However, what I saw from my neighboring state distance was competence in bringing the city up by it’s bootstraps.

    • I was talking to a local political operative the other day, who mentioned campaign finance reform (pro). I said real reform would limit the ability to accept donations from any person who doesn’t reside in the district as the candidate for office (district or state); no donations from any source that is not a live human being and no bundling. After choking on the coffee, the person said that’s pretty serious. Let’s do it right.

  6. “reform” is an oxymoron… it means different things to different folks and I don’t trust many who say they want it further than I can throw them because many just want to stop the money from groups they disagree with not other groups the agree with. No way.

  7. Well you are right about Virginia – but these are not Federal limits.

    so do these laws keep money out of Virginia or keep TV ads from running in Virginia that were bought by out-of-state money?

    I know that Virginia campaign money is “unlimited” and you say Virginia is corrupt – but if it is – very little of it reaches the surface. Do you think the money actually buys votes or what?

    I know that several have got caught getting State jobs after they left the GA…

    I just don’t perceive Virginia to be _that_ “corrupt”. so educate me.

    My bigger concern is these national PACs that promote disinformation and misinformation on issues and candidates.

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